Saturday, May 26, 2012

221. The Third Man (1949)

Running Time: 104 minutes
Directed By: Carol Reed
Written By: Graham Greene, Alexander Korda
Main Cast: Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee
Click here to view the trailer


"Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly." 

Of course, "The Third Man" wasn't directed by Orson Welles, but rather, it was directed by Carol Reed, which is why this is a bonus in the "Welles Week" festivities. I'd been waiting to see "The Third Man" for a very long time and once again I prove that waiting to see something you really want to see is never a good idea.

Holly Martins (Cotten) arrives in post-World War II Vienna, coming at the request of his friend of twenty years, Harry Lime, to start a new job that was offered to him by Lime. When Holly arrives, he finds out, almost immediately, that Harry is dead and makes it there in just enough time to catch his funeral. At the funeral, Holly meets police investigator Major Calloway (Howard), who, after a bit of conversation, informs Holly that Harry was involved in a racket and deserved what he got. Holly doesn't believe that a man like Harry would be involved in any sort of underhanded affairs, so he sets out to find out the truth about his deceased friend. The story goes that Harry was walking down the street, with a friend of his, when another friend called from the opposite side of the street. When Harry crossed to meet his other friend, he was ran over by a car. In fact, it was his own car, being driven by Harry's employed driver. After he was hit, Harry's two friends, as well as a third man, which no one seems to remember being there, carry Harry across the street and are with him when he dies on the sidewalk. In addition to Holly, Harry's girlfriend Anna (Valli) would also like to find out the truth about Harry and she accompanies Holly around Vienna, interviewing eyewitnesses and digging for clues.


Some of you may remember the story I'm about to tell, but I'll retell it anyway for the unaware. About a year or so ago, I was walking past the big screens at work (I work at Wal-Mart) and noticed a commercial for TCM's 31 Days of Oscar. As I passed the televisions, my eyes passing from one to the other, trying to keep up with the commercial, I noticed various clips that I recognized. Actually, it was almost like a game - how many clips from the commercial could I identify. As I rattled off the names of the films in my head, I noticed one clip that I did not recognize, but one that really struck me. It was a clip of a man standing by the side of the road, while, what looked to be a woman, walked toward him, up the middle of the road. There were giant trees, spilling their leaves, on both sides of the road and the image was immaculate. I had to know what it was, so I made my way to the IMDB forums and started asking questions. Soon, I got my answer: The clip was from the climax of "The Third Man" and along with the answer, people didn't hesitate to tell me how fantastic the movie was. From there, my excitement to see "The Third Man" mounted and I couldn't wait until I finally got to see that clip in the midst of the film.

Well, with all that being said, I can't say I enjoyed "The Third Man" as much as I would have liked to. I really wanted it to become a personal favorite and unfortunately, it did not. Let me start off by saying that I didn't hate the film or anything, I simply didn't like it as much as I would've liked and ultimately, it was a disappointment. But what was it that turned me off? Why couldn't I get lost in this film? It had everything I could've asked for. It had Joseph Cotten, who I've been a fan of since I watched "Shadow of a Doubt" and in fact, I looked forward to "Welles Week" as much for Cotten as I did for Welles, as I knew he was in three of the six films I'd be watching. It had Orson Welles, albeit for about fifteen minutes, but what a fifteen minutes as he absolutely steals the entire show with his cameo part. It was a film noir, which after "Seven Shadows Week" have appealed to me more and more and in fact, it has been called one of the greatest film noir's ever produced. So I think I have to blame it all on the build-up that I gave this film in my own head. And I can't really say that I waited too long to see it, because as soon as I saw that clip at work, in my head, this was going to be a '10'. So whether I saw it that day or last night, I was going to be disappointed.

The story was okay, but I'd even have to lay some of the blame for my dislike there too. I mean, it was original enough, but was it all that exciting. Harry Lime is dead and his friend is going to play detective and try to figure out what happened. I've come to realize that I dislike films where everyday people become detectives for the duration of a film (see "The Killers"). I hate to say it, but Cotten wasn't even that good in this. His character didn't have the right attitude. He arrives in Vienna and upon hearing that his childhood friend is dead, decides HE'S going to figure it all out. And what about that score? It was okay, but way too chipper for a dark film like this. I don't know, maybe a re-watch, someday will help me to appreciate this movie more, but for now call it a big letdown. The film looked like a masterpiece, with amazing shots popping up constantly, but in the end it just didn't play out like a masterpiece.

RATING: 6.5/10  I was going to go '7', but that would be me pressuring myself into rating it higher, just to "fit in" and I don't want to do that. I'll be spending this three day weekend watching some non "Welles Week" movies, while I wait for "Touch of Evil" to arrive from Netflix on Tuesday.


May 26, 2012  1:49pm


  1. Kind of refreshing to read someone not give The Third Man a glowing critique. Personally, I love it, in fact it might be my all-time favourite, but I was lucky enough to watch it as a teenager, before all the hype and breathless 'You must watch this!' comments - a film can only really fail after that kind of hyperbole, especially one that's been copied and parodied so many times.

    All the same, it's well worth another watch. One of my favourite elements of it is the depiction of Vienna, which is almost a character in itself, all ruins and shadows. It lends the film the kind of authenticity that would have been impossible otherwise. As for the zither, I can't imagine The Third Man without it and by all accounts the film was going to receive a typical orchestral score before Carol Reed happened to hear Anton Karas play live one evening in a Vienna wine bar and went for it.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks Mike. It's also refreshing to hear someone not try to force their opinion on me. I appreciate that. Anyway, I wish I would've liked it and really, it's not that I didn't like it, it's just that I wanted to like it a lot more.


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